President Obama toasted the “New Africa” and highlighted his African heritage to the dozens of leaders from the continent convened in Washington, D.C. for the U.S.-Africa Summit at a White House dinner Tuesday night.
“I stand before you as the President of the United States and a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa,” he said. “The blood of Africa runs through our family. And so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents, are deeply personal.“
Obama recalled the first family’s trips to Africa and spoke of visiting relatives in Kenya, the slave trade, and former South Africa President Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island.
“We’ve walked the steps of a painful past — in Ghana, at Cape Coast Castle; in Senegal, at Gorée Island — standing with our daughters in those doors of no return through which so many Africans passed in chains,” he said. “We’ll never forget bringing our daughters to Robben Island, to the cell from which Madiba showed the unconquerable strength and dignity of an African heart.”
Obama continued by expressing admiration for “ordinary Africans doing extraordinary things” and young Africans like the Mandela Washington Fellows who reveal “the drive to forge a new future.”
“These are the tides of history, and the ties of family, that bring us together this week. These are the citizens who look to us to build a future worthy of their dreams — especially those who dream of giving their children a future without war or injustice, without poverty or disease. They are in our prayers tonight,” he said, going on to recall the song “New Africa” –“Come together, New Africa, Work together, Keep on working, for Africa.”
“So I propose a toast to the New Africa — the Africa that is rising and so full of promise — and to our shared task to keep on working for the peace and prosperity and justice that all our people seek and that all our people so richly deserve,” he concluded.
According to the White House pool, some 400 guests attended the dinner, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who called the event one of the “most exciting things I’ve ever seen.” He marveled, “To think that the son of an African man is hosting this event in a house built by African slaves.”
Other lawmakers and dignitaries attending the dinner, per the White House pool report, included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, Robert de Niro, and former President Jimmy Carter.
Singer Lionel Richie performed for the guests, starting off his set with “Easy Like Sunday Morning.”